Bay Area/ Oakland/ Community & Society
Published on May 14, 2021
Was Derek Chauvin's right to a fair trial violated?Photo: Minneapolis Police Department/Facebook

As I struggled to write my column this week, only one topic came to mind: Derek Chauvin and the fact that the entire country watched a trial that may be thrown out.  

A juror, Brandon Mitchell was possibly wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt at a rally last August for the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington. 

Could this be grounds for an appeal, grounds for a mistrial, and should the country watch again?

It’s not exactly clear how this is going to pan out, or whether or not there are actual grounds for an appeal. But a motion was filed for a new trial last Tuesday according to court documents. Derek Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson filed a motion for a new trial after Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd. In the document, jury misconduct was mentioned but the four-page filing does not mention Brandon Mitchell, the juror in question.

Derek Chauvin wants a new trial, and it’s now in the hands of Judge Peter Cahill. When the judge is dealing with a case similar to this, there might be an additional degree of sensitivity. The judge has to think of Derek Chauvin and whether or not his rights were violated.

Mitchell did several interviews and said he would have attended the rally whether or not Floyd had died. He said the march was focused on other things during an election year, but the march was announced after Floyd's death which may prove to be problematic.

Nelson is asking the judge for a hearing where jurors are called and asked about potential misconduct. If this hearing is granted, Mitchell’s answers could result in a mistrial. The question is whether Mitchell should have disclosed that he went to a rally after the death of Floyd. If Judge Cahill rules for Nelson, the verdict could be thrown out, and a mistrial would be declared. 

The April 20 verdict in Chauvin's trial reverberated throughout the country, but was especially deeply felt in Oakland. A decade after the death of Oscar Grant at the hands of BART police, and after the culprit in that case, Johannes Mehserle, got off with an involuntarily manslaughter verdict and spent only a year in jail, Oakland is still healing from the double trauma of Grant's death and the extra-light punishment.

"Today’s verdict is a just one, and it’s also an indictment," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf after the Chauvin verdict. "The deep structural racism that pervades our country – and leads to the state-sponsored murder of Black men like George Floyd and too many others – must end. Juries shouldn’t have to tell us this."

The Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project said on Twitter, "We are thrilled and stunned by the verdict but we want people to be clear we haven’t solved white supremacy and anti Blackness. The people must know that it was the people who got this conviction."

And Grant's own mother, Wanda Johnson, was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle saying, "It’s a partial victory for the African American community." She added, "Now we’ll just have to wait and see what the sentence will be."

Just this week, the judge in the Chauvin trial ruled that Chauvin acted with "particular cruelty" in restraining Floyd, agreeing with prosecutors that he should qualify for a longer sentence. Under Minnesota law, he would have been eligible only for an 11- to 12-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge. But the extenuating circumstances of the death, Judge Cahill ruled, and his "particularly egregious" actions, may qualify him for up to 40 years.

Now, should an appeal actually happen and should the public be able to watch a second Chauvin trial, it's not just Floyd's family and the Black community of Minneapolis who will be re-traumatized. Seeing the testimony again, watching the video again, and waiting for another verdict, could be heart-wrenching for all of us.